Thursday, January 26, 2012

Geoffrey Rush's pompous Australian of the Year acceptance speech

It was kind of surprising that Geoffrey Rush was named Australian of the Year. There's no doubt that many Aussies think he has little to offer the role and that he has been over-rewarded already.

But there were certainly no surprises in the content of his acceptance speech. He politically vogued up a storm on many of the usual issues such as gay marriage, climate change, and asylum seekers.

I suspect the panel had a very good idea that he would do this enthusiastically, and this was one of the main reasons he got the gong. If you look at the past winners of this honour they tend to be of the cultural Left, after all. And while there are a few who could be described as apolitical, there are certainly buggerall conservatives.

As well as being true to form on these issues, he said this:

"The stories we tell ourselves as adults and to our children, in the communal dark, have a serious importance."

Obviously he was alluding mainly to art forms such as film and theatre. But I don't think it would be verballing him to say he thinks that pretty much every art form is "important".

Having met, and even worked with, many arty types over the years I know this attitude is pretty much standard. They really do think that what they do is "important". They also think that it can change society.

On both counts I believe they're seriously deluded. Art is not important. It's valuable. And it usually never changes anything. It's true that there have been some great politically themed works that have altered the course of history somewhat. But in the vast majority of cases art never has any real, demonstrable impact.

Sure, the arts can move people, make them laugh, offer some unusual and interesting insights, maybe even get them to think a little differently. But when all's said and done they're pretty small beer compared to the things that really change the world like politics, science, medicine and -- particularly these days -- global finance.

Look at Rush's own filmography. There's a lot of fine work acting work there, and some very enjoyable movies. But many of them, particularly his recent pirate-themed blockbusters, are basically pretty mindless entertainment.

And think about the Australian film "industry" as a whole. Not only do Aussies generally lack enthusiasm for homegrown filmic fare; they make a real point of avoiding the overtly political stuff that Rush would like to see even more of.

It's a sad irony that the more passionately PC a film-maker is, the greater the likelihood his film will get financed and ultimately made here -- but the less likely it is that it will find a big audience. That's basically because people are sick and tired of being cinematically hectored about how sexist, racist, homophobic, environmentally unsound and generally bad, wrong, thick and worthless they are. So the odds that he will actually change people's attitudes are about one millionth of diddly squat.

I mean, if all the movies about how racist we are as a nation had even a tiny fraction of the social impact intended by their creators everyone in Oz would be wearing black armbands, wouldn't they?

Really, luvvies in particular and artists in general should stop taking themselves so seriously.


  1. I like your line that "art is not important, it's valuable".

    Geoffrey Rush was a bad choice for the award.

  2. I agree other factors particularly economics are major drivers. If Geofrrey hadn't been a commercially successful and acclaimed artist I doubt he would have won. Nevertheless from the extract I heard he did made some important points eg. the value of performance rituals in our cultural history.

    Rush was also been quoted as saying "The one hat I don't want to wear immediately is the dunce's cap that says suddenly because I'm Australian of the Year, I have the licence to pontificate on everything and anything,"

    So perhaps he already doesn't take himself too serious. Is there I link to his full acceptance speech so I can form a more informed judgment?

  3. Was Rush nominated for the Oscars this year?
    God help us if he wins. He might go all Richard Attenborough on us.
    I still have nightmares about that speech. Mother falls sideways, twitching and frothing at the mouth. And I can hear the neighbours screaming "Please, God! Take me now..."

  4. Michael, thanks for the kind words. And yes, Rush shouldn't have got it. Even on the Left, there are many more people more deserving. And I suspect that's what a lot of them felt!

    Neil, re speech transcript: I did look for one myself but no luck. Maybe no one's transcribed it yet? I suspect that it might pop up online somewhere eventually.

    Gregoryno6, I never saw that speech but I heard it went on for quite some time.

    IMO Rush can drone on as long as he likes. Just as long as he doesn't do a Sally Field and say: "You like me. You really like me!"